Foodservice Equipment Reports

Who Knew? Dept.: NYC Makes It Legal For Restaurants To Fill Water Glasses

Late-night comedians like to dig up and mock antiquated rules and laws that local governments never knew about. They, and everyone else, missed this one in New York, where a local regulation that bans the serving of drinking water unless requested has been flouted so routinely that when its repeal goes into effect this month most citizens probably will not even notice.

The recently dusted-off Section 20-08, Subsection 5 of the Rules of the City of New York, Title 15, Chapter 20, entitled “Rules Governing and Restricting the Use and Supply of Water,” unequivocally prohibits serving water in a restaurant unless a patron requests it.

Many operators offer their customers choices, making a few extra dollars on bottled water rather than free tap water. Julian Niccolini, an owner of Manhattan’s famed Four Seasons restaurant, was among the few restaurateurs surveyed by The New York Times aware of the existing regulation.

“We always ask,” he told The Times. “Otherwise, it’s a waste. We have to pay for the water they use. The less we use, the less we have to pay for. And even though New York City has the best water, bottled water is a selling point, and you can make a decent profit.”

As for the discovery and repeal of the regulation, leave it to outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In his administration’s final days, it repealed the regulation barring waiters from reflexively serving water (except when drought emergencies are declared). The regulation likely dates back to at least 1991. The notice of the repeal was published in The City Record on Jan. 23; it takes effect 30 days from then on Feb. 22.

At about 1 billion gal. a day, water consumption in New York is already at its lowest since the 1960s when it was experiencing a drought and the population was far smaller. Modern meter technology installed in the last decade enables the city to monitor every gallon consumed by its 836,000 customers. This and other conservation measures have reduced consumption from an average high of more than 1.5 billion gal. a day in the mid-1970s.

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